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Albert Parker

Negro Soldiers Killed in Jersey, Arkansas, Texas

Army Jim Crow Responsible for New Wave of Violence That Takes Lives of 4 Negroes

(11 April 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 15, , 11 April 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A new wave of violence has broken out against Negro soldiers. On April 2 two Negro privates were shot dead and five wounded by Military Police in Fort Dix, New Jersey. On March 29 a Negro sergeant in Little Rock, Arkansas, was shot dead by a white policeman, aided by white M.P’s. A few days before that a Negro private in Houston, Texas, was shot dead by a white soldier assigned to guard him. At the same time a Negro private stationed in Georgia reported that he had been cruelly beaten by white policemen as white M.P.’s stood by and watched.

Military and even civil investigations and hearings are under way in most of these cases. But it is already clear that attempts will be made to whitewash the cases and gloss over the Jim Crow treatment of Negroes which is at bottom responsible for these killings. The public statement by Colonel C.M. Dowell, Fort Dix post commander, that the whole case was “merely a brawl”, laid down the line that will probably be followed by the authorities.

Brigadier-General Benjamin O. Davis, ranking Negro officer and assistant to the Army Inspector General, has been sent to Fort Dix to supervise the inquiry, and to lend a show of “impartiality” to the proceedings. Davis has been used for such work before, notably in the case of Private Ned Turman, Negro soldier who was killed at Fort Bragg, N.C., last summer, for resisting the brutal attacks of M.P.’s.

How Fort Dix Fight Began

The Fort Dix killings took place at a small community called Pointville, bordering on the army reservation. In a place called Waldron’s Sports Palace a dispute arose among a number of soldiers, Negro and white, who were waiting in line to use a telephone. A white military policeman named Hayhoe came up and began to abuse a Negro who was accused of trying to get to the phone before his turn.

None of the boss newspapers reported it, but an eye-witness in the building told a Militant correspondent that the M.P. called the Negro “a nigger and other insulting names.” Naturally, the Negroes within earshot resented this.

The M.P. then reached for the pistol in his holster. A Negro, Private Joseph Gray, who had been engaged in a bowling game, observed this, and he snatched at the holster to prevent the M.P. from using the gun. He did not get the gun, and he turned and ran out of the building. (The stories in the capitalist press all failed to tell why Gray reached for the holster; none of them mentioned that the M.P. was reaching for his gun.)

Hayhoe was joined by another M.P. named Strouth, and they rushed out after Gray and fired at him. Gray halted and started back.

Major Aage Woldike, post public relations officer, declares that the M.P.’s shots then “brought forth a fusillade of shots from the barracks across the road,” which was occupied by a number of Negro soldiers who, if this Is true, must have had their rifles very handy and must have been in possession of ammunition against regulations. The New York Times April 4 report of the affair is that one of these soldiers, Private Isaac W. Brown, shot and killed Strouth, whereupon Brown was shot down by Hayhoe.

Why Were the Soldiers Armed?

A gunfight followed, in which the capitalist press estimates “forty Negro soldiers illegally armed” participated. At least 50 shots were fired. When the fight was finally stopped, five other Negroes were found wounded and taken to the hospital, and the Negro regiment stationed near the Sports Palace was confined to its regimental area.

Woldike announced that "a preliminary investigation indicated all of the dead and injured were struck by .30 caliber rifle bullets. Military police are equipped with .45 caliber pistols.” But if this is an attempt to whitewash the M.P.’s, the authorities will have to explain how it is that eyewitnesses are supposed to have seen the M.P. Hayhoe shoot the Negro soldier Brown. Did he perhaps shoot him with Brown’s own .30 caliber rifle? Such a tale would be going too far, even for the whitewash business.

But even more important, the authorities will have to try to explain why it is that an estimated forty Negro soldiers were armed, and why they opened fire immediately after the M.P.’s fired, and why the ammunition they were not supposed to have was already loaded into their rifles where any routine inspection would have revealed it.

Soldiers are not in the habit of arming themselves in such large numbers against orders — for which they could be strongly punished — unless they have a very good reason, unless they feel that they have to protect themselves from something that is threatening them.

(PM of April 5 reports that “anti-Negro feeling had been deliberately whipped up at times” and “there have been frequent fist fights between the white and Negro troops, particularly the Southern soldiers.”)

If the boards of inquiry at Fort Dix really want to know what caused the gun battle, let them find out why these soldiers felt it necessary to arm themselves. If they overlook this aspect of the question, then it can be taken for granted that nothing fundamental will be done to prevent similar tragedies of this nature.

Plain aAnd Brutal Murder

The Little Rock case is simpler, ,and an even more vicious example of brutality against Negro soldiers. A Negro soldier in the Negro section of the city was accused of being drunk. White policemen came along and began to beat him up.

Sergeant Thomas P. Foster of Company D, 92nd Engineers at Camp Robinson, Ark., inquired of the police why they did not turn him over to the Military Police, who are supposed to have jurisdiction over all soldiers accused of misconduct.

White M.P.’s standing by then attacked Foster. He tried to resist but was outnumbered and beaten helpless on the ground.

One of the white cops, named A.J. Hay or Hayes, took out his gun. A by-stander, Walter Johnson, pleaded with him not to shoot. Hay fired five bullets into Foster’s body; he died later that night.

The army then swept into action. It rushed trucks into town, and began rounding up – all the Negro soldiers!

“Sweeping investigations were ordered by military and civilian authorities. A preliminary report issued by the chief of police was an outright whitewash. The military boards have been ordered to decide the following question: Did Foster die in line of duty? Are his parents entitled to receive a pension?”

“Fair and Impartial”

In Houston, Texas, Private Tyree Jackson was fighting with another soldier. Private Frank Covey, who was in charge of the two men, working near the Fort Sam Houston prison, ordered them to halt. They didn’t. He fired his gun, and Jackson fell dead.

Jackson was under confinement at the time, awaiting trial on three charges of violations of the Articles of War: disobeying a superior officer, being absent without leave and damaging a government truck.

The post public relations officer has assured the press that Covey will get “a fair and impartial trial,” and he has invited Negro reporters to be present.

Whatever else happens at the trial, one thing is sure: they will not try to analyze the reason why Jackson was in jail; nor will they discuss the rights and wrongs of the orders given soldiers guarding prisoners to be on the safe side and shoot when trouble arises; nor will they discuss the hundred and one subtle ways in which white soldiers are trained to look down on Negro soldiers as “inferior.” Maybe it will be a trial fair and impartial to Covey; but it won’t be fair and impartial to Jackson.

The Georgia story is shortest and simplest of all. Private Enoch Earle made a bad mistake. He was seen talking to white soldiers on the street. The white cops who saw this didn’t like it. So they beat him up. White M.P.’s did nothing to stop it. The only unusual thing about this story is that it got into the press at all – such incidents occur all the time.

“At My Direction” Boasts Roosevelt

In the face of all this, a letter from President Roosevelt to the Fraternal Council of Negro Churches, released on April 5, takes on a most ironic character. In effect, Roosevelt in this letter takes credit for what has been happening to the Negroes in the armed forces:

“At my direction, the armed services have taken numerous steps to open opportunities for Negroes in the armed forces of our country, and they are giving active consideration to other plans which will increase that participation.”

What these other plans may be, we do not know. But unless they provide for the complete elimination of the present system of segregation and discrimination in the armed forces, they cannot prove satisfactory to the Negro people or the labor movement.

What they want, if Fort Dix tragedies are to be prevented from happening over and over again, is:

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